Monday, March 31, 2008

She Just Needs More Love

I should let you know that I am only able to share my story because we (I) have made a significant amount of progress. I am still tentative that it will be lost on most. But I hope someone will find something comforting (the comforting part is still quite a few posts away) and of worth. The title of this post is still a little painful for me.

So we clearly have a child that is operating on selfishness, manipulation, without conscience or cause and effect thinking. It wasn't that specific to me.  I didn't understand the extent of the damage she had endured or that she could even be so calculated.  

What I did know is for all the wrong decisions and bad behaviors there needed to be consequences. So I draw on my limited discipline knowledge that I used for three very obedient boys. We begin with timeout. I could put her in the corner where she would just spit on the walls or pee on the floor. She spent a significant amount of time in her room although I knew it wasn't serving any productive purpose. I could not withhold things from her because she didn't value anything. Although she clearly acted like the very thing we were taking away from her was life itself. But it was so superficial as time would tell. As were most of her emotions. We would try to bribe her but she would sabotage it. Nothing I was doing was working. I was operating on very high levels of anxiety and finally succumb to spanking. This was scary for a number of reasons. I didn't like it. I felt out of control. She seemed to prefer it to a timeout. And it was the only thing that would get her to be compliant. But only for a moment. I then would feel terribly about how strict we were being with her and convince myself she needed more love. It was a destructive, emotionally draining cycle that this clever little girl recognized. She knew if she pushed hard enough she would get an enormous amount of negative attention and confidently knew would be followed by an enormous amount of positive attention and love. She knew exactly what to do to get the most reaction out of me. I had no idea that a 4,5, 6 year old could be so manipulating. I had no idea that she reveled in the negative attention as much as the positive. I had no idea that her meaning of love was attention and only went one way. I had no idea that every one of my reactions were digging a deeper hole in which I had no idea how to get out of. 

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lighten up

Thought I would post some funny things the boys have said over the years:
Cameron singing me a Row, row, row your boat:
"Row, row, row your boat gently down the drain
Merrily, Merrily quite contrary how does
you garden grow?"

I had been searching for a notebook for three weeks and finally decided to say a little prayer.  After I finished I went downstairs, straight to the closet and the box it was in.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to teach Cameron about Heavenly Father answering prayers.  Only half-interested he looked up and said, "You got your wish!"

When Noah was 3, he ran into my bedroom to watch TV.  As I came in he was lying on my pillow, smiling so big saying, "Mommy, I got your parking spot!"  Apparently I spent a lot of time there:)

One Christmas Noah was very introspective.  I asked what he wanted for Christmas.  He thought for a moment and said, "Everything I don't already have."  While looking through a toy catalog he asked, "Can Santa hear us from here?"  I said, "No."  And he replied, "Maybe we should talk louder."

One night putting Noah to bed he was holding on to his arm in pain and said in a suffering voice, "My arm hurts, I think it's losing weight."

Noah came walking out of the bathroom and I heard him say, "Simon says..."  He then looked at me and said, "What does Simon say?"  I explained the game to him and said, "Simon says put your finger in your ear" then "Simon says put your other finger in your ear."  I then said, "Take them out" and Noah said, "What?  I can't hear you?"

Last one:
One day Noah and I were riding in the car.  
It was very quiet and he said, "Jesus is talking to me." 
I said, "Oh, really?  What is he saying?"  
Noah said, "Well, he is really talking to Daddy.  He says to keep both hands on the steering wheel."
The next night I was sitting by him and I said, "Is Jesus talking to you?"  
He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "No, that was yesterday and there was a light."
I think Jay drove a little safer for a while 

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Her Conflict and Mine

I felt inadequate. Conditional. Unfair. Angry. Misunderstood. We were treating her so differently from the boys and I didn't like it but she was so different. But again unless you lived with her you couldn't see it. So I felt an enormous amount of guilt from those on the outside looking in. I had virtually no patience with her and found myself yelling at the kids. And for me this was so disappointing because it meant I felt out of control. There were a few things I would do better as a parent than I had growing up and this was one of them. But I wasn't doing better. I see now I was very hard on myself. I was taking the blame for so many of her actions. I clearly needed help. But I have discovered on this journey that I don't like to ask for help and I don't want to appear needy. That I gladly report is changing. So for far too long I felt like the source of the problem. Nobody would believe that this small girl could cause so much torment. I could hardly believe it myself. The dynamics of the family were changing. The spirit in the house was contentious. I was experiencing anxiety attacks (I recognize that now). And I had no outlet. And all the while, I tried to put on my best face. I felt fraudulent. I was becoming and doing things that I told myself I would never do as a parent. It was causing the trauma I was feeling from her to be more intense that it ever should have been. These feelings, at varying degrees, lasted for nearly 2 years.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

I can tell you that while I couldn't make sense of her behaviors, something felt terribly wrong. As I shared these and other behaviors with friends and family I always got the same response. Lying, sneaking? "Oh my kid does that'. Talking and wetting the bed? 'That is a girl thing.' And even, "You finally got a difficult child." A favorite was "Well, if she was in the orphanage 4 years, you need to give her 4 years to adjust." These were all statements from certainly well-intentioned, caring people that did nothing for my mental health. Never once did I hear something that could possibly explain the lack of feelings I had for this child. This was scary for a mother, whose natural instincts are to be so nurturing. Those natural tendencies were running for the nearest exit. The stress and anxiousness I felt from her demands and my lack of understand were beginning to push me to the edge of sanity. It was only magnified by her behavior outside of the house.
If you did not live with this girl, this is what you saw: beautiful, happy, always smiling, sweet, charming, extremely smart. If you lived with this girl, this is what you saw: fear, anger, vengence, manipulation, misery, extremely smart. I have learned that it is nearly impossible to convince someone that has not spent at least a week with her, the intensity of this destructive behavior. Most just cannot see past the face. And she saves her best behavior for everyone else. So I can't and don't expect much understanding from others.
I knew others just felt like I had a strong-willed, difficult child but it felt so much more complicated than that. I was starting to convince myself that the problem was me.

A Hint of Rose

I guess I can admit that the glasses I was looking through were a wee bit rosy. There are a myriad of reasons that people choose to adopt. A universal reason is that of service. I knew that I was capable of providing Victoria with all the material and emotional needs that she lacked for many years. I did think that would make all the difference in her life. Yet, it hasn't. I wasn't as prepared as I thought.

After about 6 months of being home I started to notice some consistent behaviors that I could no longer attribute to a language barrier. These are in no particular order, just as I think of them. These behaviors also seem insignificant. Which is why I didn't really know that there was a problem.

We will start with rocking. This is a typical behavior of children in orphanages. It is a comfort and soothing mechanism for them. It is recommended that when they begin to rock that you cuddle with them and rock them. Victoria's rocking never looked soothing but I guess it was. She would rock lying down going from side to side with her arms stretched out and hands clasped together. This was not slow and gentle. It was fast and furious. So whenever I saw her rocking I would cuddle with her and encourage her to stop. I spent hours doing this. However, this seemed to only encourage her rocking. This will be a recurring theme in my life that took me far too long to pick up on: the more I told her not to do something the more she did it. When I would rock her she would have a huge smile on her face but her eyes seemed empty.

Her smile complicated, complicates, my life.

As time went on the rocking became less about comfort and more about attention. She could control the rocking if she wanted and it became a power struggle in which she won both ways. So you are thinking just ignore it, right? So difficult. Every morning as I combed her hair it would be a ball of tangles from a night of rocking. She didn't even need to tell me and I know she felt empowered by it. I tried to praise her when I know she didn't rock and it didn't seemed to make a difference.
Toilet training. I anticipated some delays but this was so much more. So she had "accidents" often. She was wearing pull ups for nearly the first year or more that she was home. She was always needing help getting on and off the toilet (with a step stool). This small act became a source of contention because at times she needed no help. I was especially sensitive to this as someone who wet the bed when I was an older child and have memories of an impatient parent. I recall that certainly when I was younger it was not intentional. So we limited her drinks at night (as you will see later this seemingly normal act was a nightmare), made sure she went to the bathroom before bed, occasionally woke her up in the middle of the night and from a doctors recommendation, had her delay going to the bathroom to strengthen what might be weak muscles.
So, she would tell me she needed to go to the bathroom and I would try to delay it by giving her something to do or entertain her for a while. Yes, then, she needed to go to the bathroom ALL the time. I didn't pick up on it initially that she was doing it for the attention. The only thing I was picking up on was how irritating it was. So when I stopped entertaining her she just stood there and wet her pants.
She would wet the bed and be soaked from her head to her toes. She would often not pee in the bed until I went to wake her up in the morning.
Telling her she couldn't have a drink after 7pm only encouraged her to do everything she could to get a drink and lots of it after 7pm. She would sneak out of bed, find a drink anywhere. The sink, the tub, the kitchen, the toilet. Incredulous. I must tell you at this point, as there are far more troubling behaviors than this, is I had no idea what was going on. I saw it as blatant and intentional disobedience. I wish I could say that I suspected other motivating factors but I simply didn't.
Her lying was incessant and crazy. She would lie about eating candy and the wrappers would be all around her. I couldn't trust anything she did or anything she said.
She was always sneaking. Sneaking food, toys, drinks, anything that she was told not to. This among other things was increasing my anxiety.
She was obsessed with drinks. She wanted any drink and lots of it. Initially I had to practically force feed her. ( I see now that was a control issue). And now while the drink issue has subsided, it has been replaced with food.
She demanded my attention all the time. She would talk unceasingly about nothing. It was constant chatter and senseless. In the car, everywhere. I couldn't tell her to be quiet, that just fueled the fire.

Destructive. She didn't value anything. She would destroy toys, her clothes, things that after 3 boys I thought were unbreakable. It made me not want to give her anything.

There are many, many more but I need something to write in my book and I simply think it is too lengthy here. But what I want to convey is that all of these seemingly normal difficult behaviors were coming from a very destructive place. I couldn't make sense of it, but I felt it. And sadly, I was reacting to all of it.

I was taking such care to nurture her and care for her emotionally despite (what I know now) were controlling and survival techniques. But to me they just felt hateful, damaging and intentional. The most difficult part I think was that there wasn't ever any remorse for the turmoil she was causing. I wasn't having any tender feelings toward Victoria and I needed to figure out what was going on. So, first I talked to family and friends.

Friday, March 28, 2008


  I feel compelled to let you know that I am by no means an expert on adoption, attachment disorders, parenting, discipline and now that I think of it, anything.  This is just one of thousands of stories.  No two children are exactly alike and certainly each parents reactions are different.  I can easily tell you there are MANY that could have done a better job than I.  The Lord either had an enormous amount of faith in me or he was taking a really big risk.  I have to believe it was the first, because being a gambler certainly is not one of His attributes.
I am apprehensive to try to tell my story in print because I know I will not be able to convey the torment that I have felt.  I wish, at times, that her behaviors were more blatant and obvious.  If she were starting fires, killing the neighbors cat or being violent it would be so much easier for you to see the difficulties.  But she is very passive.  I suppose she was doing the worse things she could think of in her 4,5,6 year old world. And she didn't need to burn down the house because what she was doing was giving her the desired effects.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Welcome Home

Jay and I traveled to Belarus in 2004 and brought Victoria home to our family of three boys.  We were all thrilled to have her here.  She was not only a beautiful little girl but also had the brightest smile.  I thought I was prepared to bring her into our family.  I had spoken with other adoptive parents, talked to renowned international adoption doctors, read many books and faithfully followed other people's journeys to adoption on message boards.  There were many positive experiences and happily ever afters.  I had also read about the challenges, especially attachment disorders, and felt fairly certain that I was ready to bring this little girl home.  

The first couple of months were certainly a "honeymoon" period.  She was getting an enormous amount of attention from us and many family and friends.  It was entertaining trying to communicate with her using our very broken Russian and mostly charades.  She loved attention.  She loved to hug and be hugged.  She didn't mind being touched, held or kissed.  I was relieved.  I thought during these couple of months that we had avoided the challenges of attachment.  I was certain our biggest problem would be learning and speech delays.  I was very attentive to providing her consistent touch and affection.  She was the center of our conversations at home and everywhere else.  

She was so tiny at 4 years old she was wearing 24 mos clothing.  It was so refreshing to buy girl clothes after 6 years of boys.  Her hair was so short, which was typical of an orphanage, so I looked forward to growing out and fixing her very blonde hair.  

She blended so well into the family.  Initially she fit right in and I was amazed at the ease in transition.  I will say I experienced some unexpected mourning for Noah (who is 19 days older than Victoria) and I as we had spent so much time together before she arrived.  But it didn't seem disruptive to our relationship.  

We had a few problems but they were all expected.  Toilet training, strange foods, language,  going to strangers.  We were amazed that within a couple of months she was understanding everything we said and by six months she was putting a few words together to make sentences.  But during this time more complicated things began to manifest themselves.  It was subtle and unspoken.  It was making me feel uncertain about myself and very confused.  

Friday, March 14, 2008

This Week Top Ten

I have got to break up this seriousness.  So for the fun of it; I will list my top ten most played songs from my IPOD:

10  Tomorrow                Avril Lavigne
9     Demons                   Kenny Chesney
8     Say                           John Mayer
7      Where'd You Go   Fort Minor
6      Bring on the Rain    Jo Dee Messina
5      The Blessing            Celtic Woman
4      The Riddle               Five for Fighting
3      Won't Go Home Without You   Maroon 5
2      I Don't Wanna Be in Love    Good Charlotte
1      Shadow of the Day   Linkin Park

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Many, Some, None

Many of you know that 3 1/2 years ago we anxiously adopted a beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, four year old little girl.

Some of you know the struggle we have had with bonding and issues with attachment disorder.

Nearly none of you know the intensity of my suffering I have had not being able to do what was required of me to help this tiny, broken, child.  

I finally feel comfortable telling part of my story even though I am still very much living it.  I am not going to be terribly specific because I don't think this is the right medium but I hope to provide some insight in which you might learn something new or interesting and not totally bore you.  

Hindsight.  Is it biased?  Probably.  I will relate my experiences as I remember them but also with the new found understanding that comes with reflection and life's learning curve.  

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sand and Foam

"Only great sorrow or great joy can reveal your truth.
If you would be revealed you must either dance naked in the sun, or carry your cross."-Gibran

The truth revealed in my next few posts will indicate that I am in fact trudging along with my cross but you will want to stay as I anticipate great joy coming and loads of sunshine.  And no I won't post the photos of me dancing.  

A Different Life

I feel like I need a new blog name to distinguish between this new beginning and the previous posts that seem like a totally different life.  Our time in Europe seems like a dream.  Now my posts will pale in comparison as I muse on the ordinary life.  But I am still Jodi and this is still a blog so it will remain.  It will be nice not to try to be so interesting.  My intentions here are totally selfish so you won't find many updates on the family.  Just me.